Tuesday, December 25, 2012


From "Recollections of a Lost Seascape," a 1947 story in Back in No Time: The Brion Gysin Reader, edited by Jason Weiss and published by Wesleyan University Press. The story begins by describing the island of Herm and goes on to say:

The owner of the island is, therefore, a feudatory of the duke and owes him at least nominal allegiance.

Just do not come across this word much, if at all.

I happened onto this book in the library. Stack-browsing usually brings on some kind of serendipity, doesn't it? Especially when one is searching for one book and finds another, more appropriate, one for the occasion of that particular day.

A Paul Metcalf collection was my intended. Then there was a volume criticizing Gertrude Stein (which I almost took, having seen Rachel Dickstein's newest play, The World is Round, in workshop last weekend at the JCC). And then I spotted a man's face on the spine of a book and took it down from the shelf. Who is Brion Gysin? Who was Brion Gysin? I had never heard of Brion Gysin (and probably because he brought to mind Weldon Kees and Jim Salter--really for no good reason), I wanted to know more.

He was a Canadian-born word player who learned to speak seven languages and traversed various artistic disciplines, from painting to collages, sound poetry (poésie sonore), and screenwriting (he wrote an unproduced screenplay based upon William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch.)

Okay, he was also Burroughs' partner.

The book includes his Permutation Poems, which he discovered "upon seeing in print the Divine Tautology, 'I am that I am,' while reading Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception . . . [recalling to Jason Weiss in an interview] 'I saw the phrase on paper and I thought, "Ah, it looks a bit like the front of a Greek temple," only on the condition that I put the biggest word in the middle. So, I'll just change these others around, "am I," in the corner of the architrave. Then I realized, as soon as I did this, it asked a question. "I am that, am I?" And I said, "Wow, I've touched the oracle!' The full version of the poem I Am That I Am "as put through a computer by mathematician Ian Sommerville, was performed for BBC Radio in 1960, along with a "poem" assembled from a pistol shot recorded at five distances and layered variously. Philip Glass was one composer who was influenced by Gysin's sound poetry.

I just finished Jess Walter's novel Beautiful Ruins (edited by Cal Morgan and published by HarperCollins) (and which made me miss my subway stop last night), it's time to leave Walter's Porto Vergogna and move on to the next book.

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